Social media is the focus point of where our collective anxieties gather and express themselves in status updates and links and selfies and photos of cats gutting old shoes ; it's an easy thing to damn , it's a bitch to withdraw from. Jonathon Franzen is having it no easier than the rest of us with Facebook, Twitter, what have you. And it gives him another chance to become Premature Curmudgeon, the fellow who views the world as little else than a bothersome set of feet in hob nailed boots trampling on is front lawn. His rantings in his book Smarter than You Think highlights his dim view of the literature possible in 140 characters,The article goes on at length to make an obvious point that should only take a paragraph or two to explain, that nearly every communication technology has had harsh critics who concocted various scenarios of the end of all that is decent and civil. It does not, though, offer up credible suggestions as to how Twitter, in itself, has improved anything; the evidence , anecdotal perhaps, it that it has allowed more people to indulge in their worst behaviors. The social sphere, such as it is, has become a more crowded, more vulgar, ruder place for the introduction of cell phones and texting. Franzen, hardly one of my favorite writers--he is an incessant worry wart who's prose is elongated neuroses with pretensions to elegance--but on this matter he and other critics happen to be right.
The comedian Louis CK by referring to a credible, recent past, before cell phones and instant messaging when civilized people learned to how to be alone--millions of us managed to make our way through the day being, at various times, alone with our thoughts, sans distractions. We may not have liked the alone time, but there was a sense of being able to talk to people directly when you needed to, using social skills that reflected a social personality, or lack of it.We are now pulverized by the fear of being alone for even a few minutes--we have to check our status updates, we have to make some kind of noise that others can hear, we have to rattle the proverbial tin cup agains the bars of our our own under interior prisons. The point is that you were able to handily shift from a silent, interior existence to one that was fully engaged in the public eye without worrying if you're going to cause a car wreck in the transition.
The pathetic fact of our urban existence is that none of us can escape the sense that the real world has been turned into a voice mail --talking to people is frustrating because everyone is on the phone and we must wait our turn and , when our turn arrives at last, we rush our sentences, we compress our points, we speak in semi literate half thoughts because we sense the dread phone will ring again and cut off the conversation before anything useful, either socially or psychically, gets said at all.
True, true, the technology isn't going away and that it is a matter of getting used to a new way for the culture to communicate its collective expression, sublime, middle brow or moronic, but that is not a good thing and yes, future devices , codes and technology will , in effect, make these protests seem shrill and silly. That does not undermine the criticism, though; the coarsening of how we treat one another continues. It seems to me that what we do is what any person would do who is too lazy to fix a whole in their living room wall--after awhile you get used to it being there and after awhile longer to convince yourself it was an ethical, aesthetical, philosophical choice you made. It's a mind fuck , is what it is. It's merely settling for a degraded quality of life.